Photo via Victorias Secret
Last week, the internet was all afire with the news that Victorias Secret, probably the most famous lingerie company in the world, would not be making bras for women whove had mastectomies. In case you havent yet heard of this story, Allana Maiden (whose mother is a breast cancer survivor) created a Change.org petition a few months ago asking Victorias Secret to begin making and selling mastectomy bras. Victorias Secret took the petition surprisingly seriously, flying Ms. Maiden and her mother to company headquarters in Columbus, OH and promising to review the feasibility of carrying mastectomy bras in their stores.
Well, after much deliberation, the company announced that they were not moving forward with selling mastectomy bras, and gave the following reason, issued in a press release:
вЂњThrough our research, we have learned that fitting and selling mastectomy brasвЂ¦in the right wayвЂ¦a way that is beneficial to women is complicated and truly a science. As a result, we believe that the best way for us to make an impact for our customers is to continue funding cancer research.
Many people, including Ms. Maiden herself, were shocked. In one article, Allana Maiden compared Victorias Secret to Nordstrom, implying that since the latter sold mastectomy bras, then the former should as well. In addition, several prominent fashion websites wasted no time mocking Victorias Secrets decision with headlines like, Victorias Secret Wont Make Mastectomy Bras Because Science is Hard, calling the petition basically a bundle of PR points tied with a bow and dropped in the massive lingerie companys lap.
But heres the thing: making mastectomy bras is hard. The needs of women whove had their breasts removed is different from the needs of women who havent, and Victorias Secret absolutely made the right decision here no matter how unpopular it is. While there are still plenty of reasons to criticize the lingerie giant, their reluctance to jump into the mastectomy bra market is definitely not one of them.
In the original Change.org petition, Ms. Maiden focuses on the emotional side of mastectomy bra shopping, saying it doesnt seem fair that shopping for bras is such a discouraging, time consuming and frustrating ordeal, and I think they deserve to feel beautiful and Victorias Secret is the perfect company to help make that happen with a line of Survivor mastectomy bras. In a follow-up interview with ABC news, Ms. Maiden also says, But I felt that if anyone could do it, they could. They have everything in place.вЂќ
While I completely agree that every woman deserves gorgeous lingerie, I disagree with the idea that Victorias Secret is the perfect company to handle every womans needs. As Ive mentioned before, no one company can be expected to make every single kind of bra, and I respect Victorias Secrets honesty in admitting that they are not the company best suited for this hard-to-fit market.
The honest truth is that not only is Victorias Secret ill-equipped to handle mastectomy bras, most lingerie boutiques and brands are in the exact same position, which is why mastectomy bras are a specialized area of the lingerie industry. The shape of the breast, the firmness, the tissue, the density everything behaves differently once a woman has a mastectomy. And thats not even getting into concerns from scar tissue, swelling, fluid retention, and reconstruction. Put simply, you cant just throw together a mastectomy bra and hope for the best. It does require a lot of specialized research, testing, and trial and error. And of course, selling mastectomy bras also requires fitters with specialized expertise.
Its easy to accuse Victorias Secret of not caring about women whove had mastectomies (an attitude which I think reflects, among other things, a complete unfamiliarity with bra design), but Victorias Secret was stuck in a Catch-22 here.В Refuse to do mastectomy bras and have everyone accuse them of hating female breast cancer survivors, or do a line of mastectomy bras and deal with the inevitable criticisms surrounding fit (and, likely, the accusation that they should have never gone into the mastectomy bra market in the first place).
The fit issues that Victorias Secret already has would no doubt be magnified with the special circumstances of fitting women whove had mastectomies, and if there is any area of bras and bra fitting where women truly deserve a knowledgeable, sensitive, passionate expert, it is in mastectomy bras. And Victorias Secret cant offer that. A company shouldnt be punished for admitting they cant do it all. In fact, they should be commended.
As mentioned above, Nordstrom does offer a wonderful prosthetic program, but unlike Victorias Secret, Nordstrom doesnt make their bras. They sell bras from other companies, and they also add pockets to certain styles. Its a completely different way of doing business, and it simply makes no sense to compare them.
In my recent article on pretty mastectomy bras, I mentioned how hard it is to find beautiful, flattering, but still suitable pieces. The vast majority of bra sellers dont make mastectomy bras. And I strongly disagree with the notion that every lingerie company should turn into a Wal-Mart of bras and panties: selling everything in every size in every color to support every need (not just mastectomy, but also first bras, nursing bras, post-surgical bras, etc.). Specialization is a good thing, and it doesnt make sense to expect every single company to appeal to every single customer.
The bumper crop of plus size, full bust, small bust, mastectomy, and nursing bra brands that have popped up lately are a direct result of behemoths like VS choosing to avoid those markets, and the lingerie industry is better for it. Unlike what some fashion blogs say, this isnt an easy issue and Victorias Secret was in the right. So instead of encouraging this company to completely upened their business model, why not support those companies which are already making beautiful mastectomy bras?
Brands like Royce, Anita, and Amoena need your money and your publicity more than Victorias Secret ever will. Petition them to make prettier bras. Then petition your local boutiques to carry those bras. Heck, tell Nordstrom to carry them. Because at the end of the day, Victorias Secret isnt and shouldnt be the answer for every woman.
Author: Cora Harrington